Tendayi Westerhof, "It doesn't matter you're rich or educated — anyone can get HIV"

HARARE, (PlusNews) – Former model Tendayi Westerhof is better known these days as a tough-talking HIV/AIDS activist. After testing HIV positive seven years ago, she left the modelling world to found the Public Personalities Against AIDS Trust (PPAAT) to encourage other public figures and celebrities to be open about their HIV status.

Westerhof talked to IRIN/PlusNews about her decision to go public with her status and how she has stayed healthy.

"Coming out in the open about my HIV positive status was not an easy thing for me to do, but I knew I had to do so, whatever the consequences.

"I was once a very successful model and I was married to one of the most well-known soccer coaches in Zimbabwe. With this high social standing I could have decided otherwise about revealing my status, but I was driven by the need to help others, to show the world that HIV is not a disease for the poor and uneducated. I wanted to break that stereotype.

"I am living testimony that HIV knows no bounds; it doesn’t matter if you are rich, poor or educated — anyone can get HIV.

"I personally feel that the days of ridiculing others because they are HIV positive are over, because every one of us has been affected directly or indirectly by HIV/AIDS. Everyone who is sexually active is at risk, and people should not think it could never happen to them.

"I owe my good health to a balanced diet. I try as much as possible to eat the right and properly cooked foods but, like everyone else, I have not been spared by the economic crisis in Zimbabwe – the food shortages, the long bank queues and cash shortages. But I always try my best to stay in the right frame of mind because stress is the biggest enemy for anyone living with HIV.

"I also owe my good health to treatment – I am currently taking antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. I feel very lucky because many people in need of these life-saving drugs are not accessing them. Before, I used to buy the drugs on my own, but now I get them from the government programme.

"ARVs have given me a new lease of life, but sometimes your body becomes distorted in ways you may not understand. I have learnt to study my body and listen to what it wants, to reduce the way the side effects take a toll on me.

"I also owe my good health to the support of my four daughters. I know it’s not easy for them to be called children of an HIV-positive mother. When the time to take my drugs comes and I have forgotten, my daughters remind me.

"Sometimes my youngest daughter Aaliyah (6)- our miracle baby, who was born after I tested HIV positive and is negative – brings me a glass of water and says, ‘Mummy here is your medicine’, and my heart just melts away.

"Testing HIV positive is not the end of the world. I am glad that I have been given a chance to enjoy my life as a person living with HIV, and that I have been able to see my children grow.

"I travel the world to summits and workshops, and deliver testimonies on this. I know I have inspired many people, and would like to continue doing this. The sky is the limit for me."